Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reflections on the Israeli National Days

A Message from HSB Communication’s Chair Aaron Schorr ’24 

 

Dearest Slifka Community,

I wanted to share some thoughts for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, which fall today and tomorrow, respectively.
There’s a particularly profound Israeli poem by Tzur Ehrlich that gets recirculated on my Instagram feed around this time of year (English translation my own):

שְׁנֵי יְמֵי זִכָּרוֹן סְמוּכִים כָּל שָׁנָה   Two adjacent remembrance days each year
לְטוֹבַת הַחִשּׁוּב הַכְּלָלִי                 For the general calculation
כַּמָּה עוֹלָה לָנוּ עִם מְדִינָה           How much it costs us with a state
וְכַמָּה עוֹלָה לָנוּ בְּלִי                     And how much it costs us without.

As a kid in Israel, the two weeks after Passover vacation – the local version of spring break – assume a very familiar rhythm each year as school enters its final phase before the summer: Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – in the first week, followed by Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Memorial Day and Independence Day, respectively) on subsequent days the following week. It’s a series of national moments of reflection unlike any other country with which I am familiar: first, the memorialization of a historical tragedy of epic proportions, and next the observance of another, more personal and more recent national tragedy, instantly followed by the great celebration of the realization of millennia of yearning for Jewish sovereignty.

Every year, we’d get the same speeches from our teachers, following roughly the same line of thought as Ehrlich’s poem: first, we remind ourselves of the price of not being able to defend ourselves; then, we remind ourselves how costly it is to defend ourselves; finally, we allow ourselves to celebrate the achievement that is the State of Israel. For many, it is a transition that takes time to unpack amid a whirlwind of emotions. As a teenager, there was a particular narrative I kept hearing: The transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day is so difficult for me. At the time, I didn’t understand why this was. Memorial Day was somber, but it was a national tragedy that was detached from me. My memories of going to street parties with my friends and barbecuing with my family far on Independence Day outweighed the melancholy of the previous day; the transition I experienced was equivalent to flipping a switch.

Around this time of year, my ninth-grade literature teacher Tamar brought in some poems relating to Yom Hazikaron and talked about how difficult this transition was for her. I distinctly remember being skeptical of her feelings, which I contrasted with my own; at that point, at the height of my teenage cynicism, it almost felt like talking about this perceived struggle was an aesthetic to which my teachers were trying to conform. Tamar had a son, Avshalom, a couple grades ahead of me. Like everyone else, he was drafted to the Israeli military, and served as an artillery officer. In September 2017, during a training exercise in the Golan Heights, Avshalom’s artillery piece rolled over and killed him and one of his soldiers. When I got the news of his death, I was a soldier myself, but what I vividly going through my head was a flashback to that ninth-grade classroom.

Both the Israeli concepts of memorial and independence are entirely foreign to Americans. When I tell my friends back home that Memorial Day in the U.S. is a long weekend for people to have barbecues with their families in state parks, they experience cognitive dissonance. The contrast to Israel, where, at times, statehood seems like an exercise in collective trauma, could not be starker. For us, Memorial Day means a true day of national mourning, a day on which the entire country takes pause to honor its fallen. This happens in a very tangible way: at 8:00 pm on the eve of Memorial Day and again at 11:00 the next morning, air raid sirens sound throughout the country and everyone takes a moment to reflect to themselves. Cars and buses stop on the highway, pedestrians freeze where they are, office workers stand up at their desks, and every radio station plays the same horrible wail that sends chills up everyone’s spines. The entire country stops what it’s doing and remembers what it means to be independent. After two minutes which feel like an eternity, the sirens gradually fade out and you can literally feel the tension dissipating. It is a moment of shared identity so terrible it needs to be experienced to be comprehended (for a taste, watch this video; a notable exception to this story is a small minority of ultra-Orthodox communities who reject the secular Zionist state and refuse to observe both days).

In my school, Memorial Day meant an assembly where our headmaster would recite a prayer for the souls of fallen soldiers and read out the names of the several dozen alumni who had lost their lives in uniform, often collapsing in tears before reaching the end. It isn’t just Tamar or just my high school; everyone in Israel has skin in the game. While I am fortunate enough to not have lost anyone close to me, I knew Avshalom personally, as well as Barkai Shor, another alumnus of my high school, who was killed in action during the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2014. Ari Fuld, a childhood friend of my mother’s, was stabbed to death outside his settlement in the West Bank in 2018. Memorial Day isn’t commemorating a historical event with a known ending like Holocaust Remembrance Day; it is an opportunity to reflect on a process that is very much ongoing. I served in the military, as did all my peers and as will all of my younger siblings. My younger brother, in fact, started the same artillery officer training program Avshalom had gone through just last week. For this reason, Memorial Day can often feel like the Israeli trauma Olympics, in which everyone loses.

Only with this background can anybody understand the much-discussed transition to statehood. The State of Israel is a relatively new concept: until his death last week, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth had been married for longer than the country, which had been granted independence by the latter’s father, had existed. Like many other young countries created by postwar decolonization, Israel was born in fire and brimstone, which continued raining down sporadically for decades. Like the plethora of articles on the Internet explaining why we need to experience pain to truly experience pleasure, there can be no celebration of Israeli independence without commemorating the terrible personal price at which it came, both in the extermination camps of Poland and on the battlefields of the Sinai and the Golan Heights. In Israel, Independence Day is not just an opportunity to bask in the glow of patriotic sentiment, it is a moment of deep reckoning, the culmination of a process of national evolution that really begins twenty days earlier with the observation of Passover, the holiday commemorating our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land, and inextricably linked to the two memorial days preceding it. This year, adjusting to life away from my home country, I will be reflecting upon the transition from memorial to celebration I have finally come to understand. Regardless of your attitude towards the Jewish state, I hope you will be able to understand this, too.

If you want to dedicate a few minutes from your day to Yom Hazikaron, I would be touched if you read the stories of Avshalom and Barkai. You can read a news article about Avshalom here and Barkai has a brief memorial page here on a site listing the biographies of most fallen IDF soldiers.
Fittingly, Yom Hazikaron is also the inspiration for some of the most haunting and beautiful music to ever come out of Israel. I’ve created a Spotify playlist with some of these which you can find here; they’re beautiful even if you don’t understand Hebrew.

DOUBLE Your Gift!

This week, gifts to the Slifka Center: Building Forward
capital campaign are being doubled!

Slifka Center Trustee and Capital Campaign Co-chair, Richard Pechter ’67 has generously agreed to match new gifts made to our capital campaign all week, up to $100,000 from Monday, April 12 to Friday, April 16.

 All gifts to this capital campaign made before June 30, 2021 are eligible for Yale Reunion and Capital Campaign Credit (this is in addition to being matched this week).

You can help ensure that generations of Yale students will continue to have a Jewish home on campus by supporting our Capital Campaign THIS WEEK and Doubling your impact!

CLICK HERE to Donate! 

Accounting Associate/Junior Accountant – Part time (10-15 hrs/wk)

Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale (Slifka) is a non-profit organization, committed to enriching the Jewish experience of students on the Yale campus (https://slifkacenter.org/). Slifka Center is currently seeking a part-time Accounting Associate/Junior Accountant.  Reporting to the center’s Director of Finance, this hands-on role is responsible for general accounting functions, including, but not limited to, cash receipts, accounts payable and account reconciliations.

Note: Due to Covid-19, Slifka Center’s building is currently closed and staff works remotely. The new hire will work remotely until the facility reopens, hopefully in late summer 2021.

PDF Version of this posting HERE

Responsibilities:

    • Cash Receipts (40%)
    • Process incoming cash receipts and bank deposits (Checks, ACH, Wires, CC)
    • Download online merchant activity and reconcile to Development reports
    • Record all incoming cash receipts in the accounting software
    • Scan and maintain supporting documentation for all cash receipts
    • Provide cash receipts detail for the Development Department via shared worksheet
    • Process pledge receipts and reconcile outstanding pledge balances
    • Prepare bank reconciliations
    • Payables & Vendor setup (40%)
    • Enter vendor bills and assign to budget managers for review/approvals
    • Create vendors (students and other vendors) as needed
    • Review other documents in bill.com inbox and manage/file as needed
    • Assist with general ledger (GL) account analysis and reconciliation (monthly) (15%)
    • Assist with other projects as assigned (5%)

Basic qualifications:

    • Ability to function well in a team-oriented, high-energy and continuously developing environment
    • Excellent communication skills
    • Action-oriented individual, proactive and with a strong work ethic
    • Strong attention to detail
    • Superior analytical and problem-solving skills
    • Ability to meet deadlines, multi-task, and work independently
    • Proficient in Microsoft Excel or similar spreadsheet software
    • Able to work remotely
    • High school degree

Preferred qualifications:

    • Background in Business, Accounting, or Finance
    • Experience using QuickBooks, Bill.com, Zoom, Monday.com, MS Teams
    • College degree

Prospective candidates should email a resume and a statement of interest to workwithslifka@gmail.com. Review of applications will begin immediately. The position will remain open until filled.

 About Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale:

Slifka Center is the hub of Jewish life at Yale, housed in a 19,000 square foot building that features a kosher dining hall and is located in the heart of campus. Slifka Center serves the ~1,400 Jewish undergraduate and graduate students on campus, as well as faculty and staff, and members of the New Haven Jewish community. The center’s leadership is committed to realizing Slifka’s enormous potential both as a center for Jewish students and as a significant thought leader in the Jewish community and the world beyond.

 About Hillel International:

In 1923, Rabbi Benjamin Frankel started Hillel with humble means, a noble mission and a breathtaking vision: to convey Jewish civilization to a new generation. Today, Hillel International continues to enrich the lives of Jewish students and is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world at more than 550 colleges and universities across North America and around the world. As Hillel evolves as an organization, the mission remains steadfast: to create lasting connections with every Jewish student that foster an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning, and Israel and train them to become the next Jewish leaders.

Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale is affiliated with Hillel International. Hillel International enriches the lives of Jewish students so they may enrich the Jewish people and the world, and envisions a world where every student is inspired to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.

Slifka Center is an equal opportunity employer. We are committed to creating an accepting and inclusive environment for all.

Remembering Matthew Eisenfeld z”l and (somehow) Celebrating Purim

Dear members of Yale’s blessed, dispersed Jewish community,

I hope my words find each of you well: secure, healthy, and beginning to emerge from the pandemic with those you love. And as always, I invite you to reply with your thoughts, questions, and needs.

Twenty-five years ago today, Matthew Eisenfeld SY ‘93, his girlfriend Sara Duker, and twenty-four others were murdered by a suicide bomb that tore apart a #18 bus on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. A young man who embodied the very best of what this community has been, and can be – brimming with brilliance, piety, and possibility – Matthew was living in Israel as he studied for ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

I never met Matthew, who would have been just over 50 years old now. He has nonetheless been a guiding spirit for the past two decades: in the fall of 2000, during those first horrifying weeks of the second Intifada, Matthew’s JTS roommate, Shai Held, was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel, where he again and again invoked his friend’s memory in our frantic search for understanding as bombs struck Jerusalem’s buses with relentless ferocity. When I entered the halls of JTS in 2006, a group of us studied Talmud each morning in the hour before the morning prayers – in the beit midrash named in Matthew and Sara’s memory. And here at Slifka in non-COVID-times, each Shabbat comes to life as students raise their voices in the songs Matthew loved, sung from the elegant song-books created to keep the memory of him, and his music, alive in the hearts and mouths of Yale’s Jewish community. Many of you reading this were his classmates and dear friends, and today brings with it the annual flood of memories, and of sadness.

Yet each contact with Matthew’s legacy further underscores the gaping hole his death left in our community. His scholarship and personal essays collected in Love Finer than Wine, are works of clarity and beauty, and leave the reader achingly aware of how much richer Judaism would have been – how much sweeter our lives, and our world, would have been – had only Matthew’s love of Torah and his knack for rigorous scholarship been allowed to flourish over this past quarter-century. I hope that these words, which I dedicate to Matthew’s memory, are a fitting tribute to a man who, had he lived, would have been a formative, even treasured, teacher of mine – and of so many others.

Today is fraught with paradox, because this day of grief is also the eve of Purim, Judaism’s day of reckless abandon and irreverent merrymaking. Is it possible to hold the heartache of Matthew’s loss and the possibility of laughter? How could we abandon ourselves to a carnival in this world tinged with tragedy?

Celebrating Purim and mourning Matthew are dialectical opposites. And like all opposites, they meet in a single point: the fragile partial-miracle that is the State of Israel. The introduction of Israel’s complexity – and its seemingly tenuous connection to Purim – likely has many of you confused. Let me try to explain.

Michael Walzer, in his lovely Exodus and Revolution, tried heroically to reclaim an ‘Exodus Zionism’ from the regnant ‘Messianic Zionism.’ Walzer was right: messianic Zionism is not only dangerous, giving its adherents a blank check to ignore history, ethics, and politics – it is also a radical departure from the open-ended, this-worldly work of creating a just and holy society in which the dreams of the Exodus find their fulfillment.

Walzer was right, and he could have gone further yet: the initial religious Zionist reflections on the proper celebration of the State of Israel’s birth took neither messianism nor the Exodus as their paradigm. Purim was their paradigm for the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. 

In the spring of 1949, as the first anniversary of Israel’s declaration independence approached, the Ashkenazi and Sefardi Chief Rabbis, Hayyim Herzog and Ben-Zion Uziel, issued a joint statement making the 5th of Iyyar into a religious holiday by paraphrasing Esther 9:27, in which the Jews “undertook and established” the annual celebration of Purim “for themselves and for their children afterwards.” They understood the Jewish present not in the image of the Paschal lamb, nor the splitting of the sea, nor Joshua’s conquest of the land, but in the harrowing political maneuvering of Persia’s Jews to survive Haman’s threat and to gain the power to defend themselves.

Three years later Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon, the new state’s first Minister of Religions, asked the prominent Rabbi Meshullam Roth for guidance in creating a formal liturgy for the annual celebration of Israel’s independence day, which by then had taken on the title “Yom Ha-atzma’ut.” Roth (Kol Mevaser 1:21) placed present-day Israel in a tradition initiated by Rabbi Moshe Alashkar, himself among the Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. Alashkar (Responsa #49) was asked if a town’s residents could establish a certain day as a “Purim for all purposes, to celebrate the great miracle that saved them on that day” – and responded with an enthusiastic ‘yes.’ Roth then connected the links from Alashkar in the early 16th century to the present, citing the 17th century establishment of “Purim Vinz” by the Jews of Frankfurt am Main to celebrate the defeat of Vincenz Fettmilch, who had expelled them from the town two years prior (Yosef Ometz #909) – and evidence that, some two hundred years later, the great Rabbi Moses Sofer and his community in Bratislava continued to celebrate Purim Vinz (Responsa 1:191). Rabbi Roth saw 1948 as the most recent, and most meaningful link in our long chain of exiles and deliverances – the long chain of Purims, from Susa through Spain and Germany – and now in Israel.

In the early 1970’s the great – and controversial – Hakham Ovadia Yosef refused to include some of the liturgy’s most festive elements in the prayers for Yom Hatzma’ut, (Yabia Omer 6, OH 41) remembering that following Israel’s declaration of independence, 

The war of independence continued for some time with unabated fury, and so many were killed. The ceasefire came some time later, and even after that, the enemies who surrounded us continued to inflict casualties on us. So even though the establishment of the State allowed us to gather in the exiles from the Middle East and the survivors of the Holocaust in Europe – our joy is not complete… it is tinged with sorrow.

The story of Israel – including Matthew and Sara’s time living there and their deaths there – is not the simple, inexorable triumph of Passover, much less the Messianic era, but the contingent and conflicted deliverance of Purim, “tinged with sorrow.” And it is not only Purim that illuminates present-day Israel; Israel’s realities of alternating deliverance and danger may hold the very keys to the joy of Purim.

Long, long ago, Isaiah urged us (66:10), “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, All you who love her! Join in her jubilation, All you who mourned over her!” Mourning is not incompatible with jubilation, but a prerequisite for it; hearts that have not been broken open by anguish have no furrows where the seeds of joy can take root. The Rabbis did Isaiah one better, making this connection explicit and necessary (Taanit 30b), “Those who have mourned for Jerusalem will merit to see it in its joy; those who have not mourned for Jerusalem will not.” Our people’s mourning for Jerusalem stretches back millennia; over the past-twenty five years it has included, as one of its most searing chapters, February 25, 1996. Today, we carry that compounded mourning into our celebrations, with the faith that somehow we can, and must, hold them together.

This year our path to joy passes through the valley of the shadow of death – and perhaps it does every year. The month of Adar, defined by Purim, is one of magnified joy – not in the simple multiplication of moments of happiness, but in an expansion and transformation of what our hearts can hold. Jewish weddings culminate in the breaking of a glass; at the pinnacle of joy, something shatters as well. True, courageous joy only comes after an agonizing awareness of our fragility, and never through denial. This Purim, and all days, may we carry Matthew and Sara in our hearts – and with them, the blessings of community, of Torah, of song, and of Israel that they treasured and loved so dearly, every day of their too-short lives, and beyond.

Yours in friendship, mourning, and celebration,

Jason

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein

Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale

Alumni

Welcome to Slifka Center, the home for Jewish Life at Yale. Whether you graduated before our Center opened in 1995 or had the chance to use the Center as a student, we welcome you to the hub of the Yale Jewish community. We invite you to browse this site and learn about everything that the Center offers for today’s Yale undergraduates and graduate students. We also have some programming that is designed for you!

In particular, we draw your attention to the following pages:

About Slifka Center:

Programs for Alumni

  • Slifka Online Salons – monthly online programs featuring prominent speakers on topics of interest
  • Reunion programming – we offer Shabbat dinner, services, and other programs of interest during reunion weekends.
  • The Game – in years when Yale hosts The Game we welcome alumni for a full suite of celebratory Shabbat activities
  • Come visit anytime! We’d love to show you around and give you more information! Please contact Jennifer Rogin Wallis at jenner.wallis@yale.edu for more information.

Rabbi Isaama on Walking In Heschel and King’s Footsteps

Read the full Devar Torah Here

Excerpt:

As we each wrestle with our own place in our country’s national discourse on race, and try to navigate our personal responsibility vis-a-vis racism, I still believe we have much to learn from Heschel. In 1963 at the National Conference on Religion and Race, the conference where Heschel and King first met, Heschel offered the following caution to American Jews:

There are several ways of dealing with our bad conscience. (1) we can extenuate our responsibility; (2) we can keep the Negro out of our sight; (3) we can alleviate our qualms by pointing to the progress made; (4) we can delegate the responsibility to the courts; (5) we can silence our conscience by cultivating indifference; (6) we can dedicate our minds to issues of a far more sublime nature.

58 years later, we can look to Heschel’s cautions, and identify the normative habits of mind that have become deeply ingrained in our culture. It is hard to hold the truth that we have all managed to find ways to comfort our consciences in the face of inequity. Yet, we do not help ourselves or the cause of justice if we allow ourselves to become numbed by the weight of our own guilt.

Programs

The Slifka Center for Jewish Life is an active, vibrant, and diverse Jewish community. Slifka plays a central role in bringing together all our community has to offer. Our staff and students run a multitude of programs and platforms for your growth and enjoyment. Click each Heading for more information!

You may contact our staff, our Hillel student Co-Presidents, Ruthie Davis ’23 (ruth.davis@yale.edu) and Zevi Siegal (zevi.siegal@yale.edu), or any of our Student Leaders for more information — they are always happy to help!

Student Groups Finding community within Social Justice, LGBTQ+, Music, Greek Life, and more!
Israel Israel programming at Yale ranges from the political to the social and cultural, with plenty of travel opportunities
Religious Life Slifka Center offers a variety of Spiritual and Religious communities and ways to engage and explore.
First Year Students Everyone starts somewhere! If you’re new to campus, start here!
Social Justice We offer fellowships and other ways to pursue social justice initiatives
Travel Trips to Israel and more!
Jewish Learning and Fellowships Engage in Jewish Tradition with other Yale students.
Arts Interested in music? Arts grants? Or want to check out our permanent collection? Start here!
Mental Health Resources Pastoral Support, Community Support, and School Resources are here
Slifka Think Tank Creating New Ideas at the Intersection of the Jewish and American Intellectual Traditions

Student Groups

Jewish & LGBTQ+

We are a student group that celebrates the cultures of both the Jewish and LGBTQ communities, and provide a comfortable space for students within these communities. Contact Isaama.Goldstein-Stoll@yale.edu for more information

Team Teva 

We are a student group that focus of sustainability and environmentalism. Contact Gavi.Welbel@yale.edu and Norah.Massie@yale.edu

Jews of Color  

Do you identify as a Jewish POC?  Contact ikenna.maduno@yale.edu for more information.

Young Israel House at Yale

YIHY is the student organization responsible for Orthodox student life on campus. We provide support, programming, and learning opportunities to the observant community, as well as reaching out to the greater Jewish population at Yale. Contact Alex.Ozar@yale.edu or Lauren.Steinberg@yale.edu for more information.

Jewish Graduate and Professional Student Network

Kehillah (Community) is Yale’s Jewish Graduate and Professional Student Community. We are a Slifka-sponsored, student-led organization that programs social events, Jewish learning, and prayer. While we are primarily dedicated to serving graduate and professional students of all denominations, we welcome young professionals in the greater New Haven area to join us in our programming. See the graduate student page of the Slifka Center website or be in touch with our leaders for more information.

Yale Hillel

Yale Hillel is a community that enthusiastically embraces the range of Jewish backgrounds and experiences on campus. Contact Avi.Cooper@yale.edu or Numi.Katz@yale.edu for more information

Yale Friends of Israel (YFI)

Yale Friends of Israel is a student group for those who care about the State of Israel and wish to learn and discuss issues related to Israeli politics, diplomacy, and history, as well as celebrate Israeli art, music, theatre, literature, cuisine, and technology. A pro-Israel, non-partisan group, YFI does not endorse any particular political views.  Contact Zach.Zabib@yale.edu or Mati.Zeff@yale.edu for more information

AEPi

Yale’s only Jewish fraternity. We are culturally Jewish, and try to incorporate those values into everything we do.

Yale Israel Journal

The YIJ explores the cultural, political and historical issues concerning Israel. Contact Mati.Zeff@yale.edu for more information.

Shibboleth

Shibboleth is Yale University’s undergraduate journal dedicated to Jewish thought and ideas – religious, political, cultural, literary, and philosophical. Contact Dov.Greenwood@yale.edu for more information.

Yale Klezmer Band

Yale Klezmer Band brings the joyous, rousing sounds of klezmer to the halls of Yale, to its Hillel as well as to anyone who likes energized dance music. Contact amy.shteyman@yale.edu for more information.

Magevet

Magevet is a Jewish, Hebrew, and Israeli a cappella group from Yale University. All of its members are undergrads devoted to spreading beautiful music of the Jewish tradition to the far corners of the globe. Contact daniel.edison@yale.edu for more information.

The Latest on Covid

4/14/2020

Like every community and institution, the last month at Slifka Center has been a series of responses to the unprecedented challenges posed by the Coronavirus outbreak. Now that we have cleared those initial disoriented weeks, we are taking a moment to reflect and share how we are refocusing our work of building Jewish community and nurturing students.

Our most consistent and fundamental priority has been safety – for our students, our staff, and the broader community. We followed Yale’s aggressive lead in rapidly closing Slifka Center, and took early steps in the New Haven Jewish community to discourage the types of social gatherings that had been known to lead to spread in New York and Israel. No gathering, no matter how exciting or how long-planned, is worth the risk.

Built on this commitment to safety, we have supported our students and broader community in three primary ways: providing stability, meeting financial need, and addressing the spiritual moment.

Providing Stability: Students’ lives have been turned upside down by the virus in the present and future – and we have sought to provide a stable, reliable base of relationships and community to help them navigate this challenging terrain together. Here many of the core Hillel methodologies – maintaining constant one-on-one communication with every student, embracing the diversity of our community, and empowering student leaders to take on leadership – have proved more valuable than ever. We have essentially moved our normal programs, classes, and services on-line; we have been in one-on-one contact with well over 100 students to hear about their lives and let them know someone is thinking of them; and we have even held student-board elections. And we have found a variety of new ways of gathering, creating asynchronous conversations to replace those that would have happened over lunch. All of this has been particularly essential as the diversity of students has only come to the fore – while campus is a great equalizer, differences in home situations from access to the internet to having a room of one’s own are magnified now – so developing a diverse and tailored approach is all the more important.

Meeting Financial Need: The financial dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic have touched everyone – including the Yale community. Since Yale has recently diversified its student body, a number of students rely on it for their own material well being, and that of their families. In addition to distributing over $2,000 in direct grants to students in need, we have taken steps to ensure that workers impacted by the closure of the Slifka Center dining hall are made as whole as possible for their lost wages. Finally, we are planning carefully for the long-term financial health of Slifka Center as an institution in the event that the current economic downturn becomes a recession, or worse. This process will be painful, but is necessary.

Addressing the Spiritual Moment: Spiritual support and inspiration are needed now more than ever, and we have made addressing the challenges of a foreboding future, a rapidly shifting present, and the emotional difficulty of family members’ sicknesses a central part of what we have done. The heart of this work has been numerous pastoral conversations with students who have lost family members to COVID-19 or themselves been sick, who have been unable to attend funerals because of travel restrictions, and who are struggling with loneliness and depression due to social distancing. We have also produced materials – a series of weekly emails that have been read over 10,000 times, an online session for students and alumni planning Passover celebrations over Zoom. Most importantly, we have empowered students and community members to support one another – with students producing not one but two amazing Haggadah supplements, and members of the local New Haven Jewish community buying one another groceries and calling one another over the holiday.

Throughout all of this, we have been keenly aware that our students and our community have never needed us as much as they do now – and never been more grateful for the engagement and support of everyone who makes our work possible.

Please do not hesitate to reach out as you have questions or ideas, or ways that we can be of service.

Yours,

Uri CohenExecutive Director

Rabbi Jason RubensteinHoward M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale

Mourning the Murder of George Floyd

June 2, 2020

Dear Slifka Community,

We are writing to give voice, on behalf of Yale’s Jewish community, to our heartbreak and outrage at the murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer. We stand in solidarity with Black Jews and the wider Black community and in particular with our close friends and colleagues at the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale and the Black Church at Yale. And we realize that at this moment we must recommit ourselves to meaningful anti-racism work. We are all implicated when an innocent man is killed by law enforcement officers on a city street, in broad daylight, in full view of other officers and the public.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, we remember the harugei malkhut – innocent Jews executed by governments that oppressed our people over millennia. Our tradition teaches that we cannot take stock of our moral condition without reciting the names of those killed by the very people charged with protecting them. And we know that the list of Americans killed by those sworn to protect them is centered on racial minorities – and continues to grow.

Every death is a tragedy. But a murder is something different, and one that is part of a larger system of violence and oppression doubly so: the killing of George Floyd was all of these at once. As were the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Sean Reed – and last year’s shooting of Stephanie Washington in New Haven. Yvonne Passmore, an African-American resident of Minneapolis, shared this powerful framing with a reporter: “This isn’t just about George Floyd. This is about years and years of being treated as less than people — and not just by police. It’s everything. We don’t get proper medical. We don’t get proper housing. There’s so much discrimination, and it’s not just the justice system. It’s a whole lot of things.” We are witnessing – and participating in – a moment of protest that is fueled by a profound and destabilizing reckoning, a coming to terms with a bankrupted moral account, an acknowledgment that a large stain of guilt haunts not only America past but present-day America as well – as it will the future, absent fundamental and far-reaching societal transformation.

And – while expressions of sympathy and solidarity are necessary, they are nowhere near sufficient. We remember moments of acute attention and outrage that have fizzled into apathy. For this statement to mean anything, it must lead to action and structural change beyond what any email could provide. We are making just this commitment, with full knowledge that we are in the early stages of knowing how to make good on it.

“To say, ‘things just happen this way’ is to indulge in cruelty. We must realize that what happens is the product of our actions.” These words of Maimonides confront us today. We must grapple with the uncomfortable truth that our Jewish community, our institution, and our values are in need of long term internal reflection and meaningful structural change.

For now, we are attaching a list of educational resources and organizations in need of support edited by Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll, Slifka Center’s Senior Jewish Educator, based on a document created by Marlee Goldshine, Slifka Center’s former Social Justice fellow. Hillel Student Board (HSB) will be introducing opportunities to work towards racial justice through interfaith events, Jewish learning, and support of local organizations. In this project, we are strongest as allies and community members when we listen to and follow the lead of Black community members. Among them, this Sunday at 9pm Rabbi Jason will lead an evening of study and conversation in memory of George Floyd entitled “Imagining America’s Repentance” (https://yale.zoom.us/j/97231834106).

Things do not just happen this way; they do not need to happen this way – racial injustice is neither inevitable nor invincible. If we are silent, or if we give up on the struggle for justice, we would become, God forbid, accomplices to cruelty. Let us commit to being the opposite – allies of redemption and of everyone courageously working towards it.

Yours in mourning and resolve,

Uri Cohen, Executive Director of Slifka Center
Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale

Numi Katz, Yale Hillel co-president
Avi Cooper, Yale Hillel co-president

Hillel Student Board
Isabel Kirsch, Social Justice Chair
Annie Giman, Jewish Culture Chair
Max Heimowitz, Communications Chair
Zevi Siegal, Social Chair
Maayan Schoen, Outreach Chair
Sam Pekats, Education Chair
Madison Hahamy, Community Building Chair
Ruth Davis, Shabbat Chair